These days, it seems like every good book is turned into a movie. I really enjoy watching movies adapted from novels that I have read – it’s so exciting to see the characters come to life on the big screen! However, most of the time I feel that the movie is just never as good as the book. There is always something lacking in the actor’s portrayal of the character that has been crafted from my imagination while reading the book. And then there’s all of the parts that were left out of the movie that they just couldn’t fit in. This is why I have a personal rule of always reading a book first, before seeing the movie.
I finally got around to reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, a few weeks ago (I know, I know – I’m a little behind with this one). After seeing the previews for the movie, watching it’s stars win award after award this season, and hearing rave reviews, I wanted to see for myself what all the hype was about. So, following my rule, I first read the book then saw the movie, and I honestly was not expecting to love them both as much as I did.
You have most likely read The Help (I think I was one of the last people in the country to read it) so you know that it is set in Mississippi and tells the story of African-American maids working for white families during the early 1960s. Let me start by saying I am from the South. My family is from Mississippi, and although I grew up in Tennessee and now live in Alabama, I spent many summers and holidays in a small Mississippi town, as well as four years when I attended college. I am familiar with the state and its history, and based on the stories my parents and grandmothers told me of their childhood, I had an image of how things were in the past in Mississippi. After reading The Help, however, I realize that the image I had was a glossy, happy, sepia-toned one that existed only for my small family and others like it, far from the truth of how things really were for most people in Mississippi during that time.
The Help reveals the harsh reality of segregation and discrimination against African-Americans in Jackson during the early 1960s. I love how it is told from first-person perspectives of three women: two maids working for white families (Aibileen and Minny), and also from a young white woman who has never known life without an African-American maid working for her family (Skeeter). I thought it was such a good idea for Stockett to present the story this way – from completely different perspectives. I found myself relating to Skeeter and her shock at finding out how things really were for the maids and their families, as if I were finding all these things out for the first time, too. But I also felt the pain and humiliation as Minny and Aibileen told their stories of how they were told they were too “dirty” to use the same toilets as the families for whom they work. The same families whose meals they prepare, clothes they clean and iron, and children they raise from the time they are brought home from the hospital. What’s worse is the how they develop a relationship with these children, some of them even looking at the maids as their “real” mamas, only for it to be severed and never spoken of again once the child is old enough to be taught that their maid is black and they are white, and those two do not go together.
Stockett created characters that will not soon be forgotten. I fell in love with them (well, most of them), particularly Minny and Celia Foote, and found myself loathing the vile Hilly and her robotic Junior League followers. I can honestly say I laughed out loud, cried, and felt a tremendous sense of pride as the women’s risky, hard work paid off. That’s when a book is a really good one to me – when I feel like I know the characters and experience the feeling of being a part of their world as I’m reading the story.
After finishing the book I was desperate to see the movie and, naturally, I was a little hesitant. But I found that overall the film did not disappoint me. I thought the actresses chosen or Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny, Celia, and even Hilly were spot on. As I mentioned above, I especially loved the Minny and Celia characters and thought that Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain did a fantastic job portraying them; from Minny’s sassy attitude to Celia’s bat-brained yet endearing personality.
The setting was truly Southern and 60s, and the costumes looked authentic. I have to admit, I was let down by all of the changes the film makers had to make when converting the book to a screenplay (Stuart’s break up with Skeeter, Minny’s initial uncertainty and the mystery of Miss Celia, and especially the story of Constantine and her daughter – that was totally different from the book) but found that it didn’t make me dislike the film altogether.
Overall, I really enjoyed the film adaptation and found myself again laughing out loud, crying, and feeling pride and joy for the characters. But I have to say, I liked the book better. I will be recommending The Help for a very long time, and not just to women. A lot of people saw the book and movie as something geared towards women but that is not true. I think The Help tells an extremely relevant story that everyone should know, not just us girls.
Oh, and I’ll be steering clear of the chocolate pie for a while now, thanks to Minny.
What did you think about The Help? Did you love it as much as I did?